The Modern Language Association conference was held in Philadelphia last December (’06) and, as usual, the local newspaper feels obliged to cover it. Usually such stories devote most of the space to mockery at arcane, whacky paper topics and seem inevitably to have a jokey, anti-PC, antiacademic tone: how silly, all this.
Each May, as the families of undergrad seniors come to Philly for their kids' commencement, we hold a celebration to honor a group of students who have been closely — sometimes very closely — affiliated with the Writers House. This year's "senior capstone event" honored 12 seniors.
Greg Manning came to the Writers House in September 2006, almost exactly five years later, to discuss writing about his and his wife's experiences during and after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The first Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium at the Kelly Writers House featured Rosanne Cash. The event took place on April 12. Anthony DeCurtis moderated a Q&A; with Rosanne, and she played several of her songs (guitar and voice only — what a treat), including a favorite of mine, "Black Cadillac." The session was recorded and audio is available for free download (right-click on the link above). The July/August 2007 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette includes a good article about the program. Rosanne will be a hard act to follow, as it were, but we'll be hosting another singer-songwriter symposium next spring. The photo here is of Sam Preston, Penn's eminent demographer and former dean (and avid songwriter himself), with Rosanne after a wonderful celebratory dinner in the Writers House dining room.
Roger Angell offers commentary here and there throughout Ken Burns' 9-part (or 9-"inning") documentary Baseball. In what is perhaps my favorite of his appearances in this film, he talks about Bob Gibson. Here is an mp3 recording of it. Angell was a Writers House Fellow in 2005, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him (mp3).
He enjoyed his time with the students and the other people of the Writers House community, as he said so, generously, a few days later. Eric Karlan has written a nice summary of that interview. "Angell concluded his several-day stay in Philadelphia," Eric writes, "with an excerpt from a piece on the 1975 World Series, the infamous Game 6 when Carlton Fisk willed the ball fair for the game-winning home run. As he does so well, the longtime New Yorker writer provides a fresh, provoking perspective on an event. He leaves the Writers House thinking about 'caring.' Despite being a fanatic, Angell recognizes the triviality of baseball in the grand scheme of life. And that is why, as he imagines people across New England giddy and elated at the Red Sox victory, he reminds all of us not only of how odd it is that we dream through sports teams, but how it has seemingly ceased to matter to everyone what they care about — 'as long as the feeling is saved.'" You can hear other Angell clips (on the early Mets, on NYC as the capital of baseball in the 1950s, on Bobby Thompson's homer, on Willie Mays, on the Red Sox 6th game victory in 1975, and on Babe Ruth's final weekend) by going to the 2005 Writers House Fellows reading list. Listen to Angell read from his essay about the 1975 World Series.
At an event we called "7 Up on Gold" — featuring seven people speaking for seven minutes each about gold, the color or the element — I chose to speak about the chapter entitled "Gold" in Primo Levi's brilliant book, The Periodic Table. I've taught the book a number of times in my course on the Holocaust.
I happily host two podcast series. One is PENNsound podcasts and features recordings from that vast archive of poetry recordings. The other series, Kelly Writers House podcasts, presents excerpts from various sorts of programs, events, seminars and discussions at the Writers House. Please listen and let me know what you think.
My former student Randi Feigenbaum was a big-wig at Penn's student-run daily newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian at the time the Writers House at 3805 Locust Walk was just forming. It was in those weeks and months known as one of the "pilot" projects of the "21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience" at Penn. Randi's news piece was published in the December 7, 1995 issue of the DP. It gives a pretty good sense of what we were trying to get started there. To this day, Randi is a big supporter of the Writers House.